Zero in on OUAI’s journey. Launched in 2016 by celebrity hair stylist and social-media maven Jen Atkin, this hair care brand has delivered some of the fastest selling SKUs in Sephora, attracted the attention of journalists and netted an impressive eight-figures in sales. There’s little doubt that success stories like this are shaking up the beauty sector. So, what can major beauty brands learn from these social first brands’ achievements and how can they replicate it?
Know your audience
OUAI founder Jen Atkin is incredibly hard working and sensationally driven. She obviously achieved these stratospheric sales figures with sheer willpower and force. But key to her success was knowing that OUAI’s customer is the girl who buys Zara but wears it like Celine. Social first brands have this crystal-clear insight because they’re speaking with their audience 24/7 on their social channels.
The result of having such a close relationship with their audience is that social first brands can make brave choices. Their decisions are quick and clever, enabling them to give consumers experiences that will surprise and delight them. This agility means they can get their products to market quickly turning them into trendsetters.
With their small budgets, social first brands create early prototypes and focus product offerings around specific outcomes rather than trying to be all things to all people. Their intuition and real-time customer requests are followed up with speedy delivery, instead of the corporate focus groups and lengthy research phase. The social first beauty brand launches quickly and then monitors how the market reacts, adapting products and communications as they go.
Creating a viral beauty brand isn’t easy so it’s important to choose your partners wisely. From creating a compelling brand identity and voice to designing insta-worthy packaging and an engaging e-commerce experience to creating social content and building a killer retail pitch—it takes true partnership and intense collaboration between the brand and the agency to make this work.
Focus on your strengths
Viral beauty brands have their advantages, but big brands have weapons in their arsenal too. Major beauty bands can assemble innovation teams, they have economies of scale and purchasing power, and their established retail and e-commerce platforms are among best in the world.
Look at what PepsiCo did with with LIFEWTR, the bottled water brand that’s connected with culturally-inclined consumers by positioning itself as a platform for emerging artists. Under the direction of chief design officer, Mauro Porcini, the brand designed a series of labels featuring artists like Ji Won Choi, Jamall Osterholm, and Daniel Cloke, showing a bottle of water as a fashion accessory or an extension of its audience’s personalities — both harnessing the strengths PepsiCo possesses and building on them through social.
Taking this start up approach is challenging for a big beauty brand – the costs and risks are greater and making change in any large organization takes a long time. However, doing nothing in the face of competition from the social first beauty brand challengers is not a solution, while opening themselves up to change could create tremendous opportunities.
It’s a challenging time for big brands, but for the ones which seize the opportunity to learn from social-first start-ups and experiment with what makes their star shine bright, the future is full of promise.
Travis Stratford is managing partner and co-founder, CASE, a New York integrated branding agency.